A Vermont man decorated his SUV for Christmas, aiming to bring joy to his neighbors during the COVID-19 pandemic and to generate attention for a community toy drive.
"I want people to be happy," Troy Austin of Essex told NECN.
The security guard wrapped his Nissan Rogue in what he estimated was a couple hundred dollars worth of Christmas lights.
"It's a big hit in Essex," Austin said while showing off his vehicle earlier this week at the Essex Experience — a destination for shopping, dining and other activities.
Austin said he took his inspiration from S.D. Ireland, the Vermont construction firm which decorates two concrete mixers each holiday season.
As NECN reported earlier this week, the company views its tradition as more important this year than ever. It wants to use its mixers to make residents of northwestern Vermont smile, something it insists is definitely needed during the often dark days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Austin said for his version, he worked the strands of lights to run off the SUV's auxiliary power socket — where the cigarette lighter used to be.
"It's a giant lightbulb going down the road," remarked Andrew Miller, an Essex High School student who saw Austin's decorated car earlier this week.
Austin said he was careful to not use red or blue lights, and no flashing ones, so other drivers don't mistake him for an emergency vehicle in their rear-view mirrors.
"I get some weird looks sometimes," Austin acknowledged. "But most people, they're honking their horns or flashing their lights and they're just smiling and having a good time looking at the Christmas lights."
Emilie Bennett, another EHS student, said coming across the one-of-kind vehicle instantly caught her attention.
"I think it's pretty cool," Bennett said. "I haven't seen anything like it before."
Troy Austin now hopes to turn that attention into action, using his Christmas car to promote a drive-through charity toy collection he has coming up at Essex High School later this month.
The event will be held Saturday, Dec. 12 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the high school. Donors are asked to bring an unwrapped toy, and to drop the gifts off without exiting their vehicles as a measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Austin is promising several other decorated rigs will be at the drive-through toy collection, too, including an illuminated farm tractor and a fire truck.
The volunteer said the toys collected will then be provided to the Toys for Tots effort from the Marine Corps League, which distributes toys to area children who are less fortunate.
The joy-on-wheels concept of decorated vehicles could even be catching on.
"We had an idea to wrap our car in wrapping paper, but when we saw this, we thought we should do it," said Robbie Morse, another Essex student who was photographing Austin's car for his YouTube channel.
Austin, S.D. Ireland and others who decorate their vehicles appear to have come up with a whole new spin on making the season bright.
"I'm hoping it becomes a tradition, because it's definitely a big hit in the community," Austin said.